Boo.com's Domain, Brand Goes to Fashionmall.com

BOSTON (06/02/2000) - The liquidation of Boo.com Group Ltd. was essentially completed today with the sale of the European online retailer's domain and brand names to a New York fashion portal.

Boo.com folded two weeks ago after a failed attempt to get its investors to kick in more than the $100 million-plus they had provided for the site's launch six months ago.

The firm handling the liquidation, KPMG Corporate Recovery - a unit of the U.K. consulting firm KPMG - said Fashionmall.com will take over the Boo.com brand and domain names today for an unspecified price.

The news follows the announcement Tuesday that software and other intellectual property owned by Boo.com will be transferred to Bright Station PLC, a British information technology firm.

The failure of the cutting-edge fashion retailer is a cautionary tale for the new economy. "Boo.com was the first high-profile dot-com casualty," said Mick McLoughlin, KPMG's provisional liquidator for Boo.com.

The liquidation was something of a case study for e-commerce, KPMG spokesman Ian Welch said. "It's been a bit of a learning curve for all concerned. It's been different than the usual sort of factory dismantling," Welch said.

Ben Narasin, CEO of Fashionmall.com, said he was thrilled to get the Boo.com brand for a price he wouldn't disclose. "Boo.com is, in my opinion, one of the best Internet brands today," Narasin said.

Boo.com had a strong European, cutting-edge fashion focus. Fashionmall.com isn't as identifiable outside the U.S., Narasin said.

Fashionmall.com hopes to parlay that global focus to "an equivalent vertical portal" to European and Spanish-speaking customers in the short term and hopefully the Pacific Rim further down the line.

Acquiring the domain and related technology has accelerated Fashionmall.com's move to go global. "It's cut . . . probably a good year in development time to get to market," Narasin said.

Narasin is in England finalizing the deal and to "make sure we can get as much of that source code up at the start to ease our burden," he said. "We don't want people to (have to) learn the site all over again."

Fashionmall.com will downgrade the graphics to simplify the site for users, he said.

Instead of using spinning, three-dimensional graphics to sell products directly, the new Boo.com will, like it's parent company, connect users to a variety of fashion retailers.

The heavy bandwidth required for the existing Boo.com site was one factor that lead to its demise, Narasin said.

Since the company isn't selling products directly, Fashionmall.com doesn't need the attention-grabbing graphics, he said.

Boo.com pushed the envelope, he said, which is good for haute couture but bad for mass retailing, he said.

The new site will be much more accessible, he said.

"It's the difference between what you see on the runway and what you see in the store," Narasin said. "We do it simpler, cleaner, faster. We're taking stuff that's JavaScript and turning it into HTML. Boo.com had a very aggressive expectation of their users. I have the opposite objective."

Analyst Alan Alper at Gomez Advisors Inc. in Lincoln, Massachusetts, questioned the brand-name value of Boo.com and even the Fashionmall.com premise of creating links to existing online retailers.

"It tends to try to replicate the physical world experience, and I'm not sure how successful that is online," Alper said. "Hits are a dime a dozen. It's conversions and transactions that count.

"I give him credit in the chutzpa category," Alper said.

Analyst Harry Wolhander at ActivMedia in Peterborough, New Hampshire, said the Fashionmall purchase was a savvy one.

"Look at all the money that Boo spent to promote the brand. Fashionmall actually knows how to execute that stuff," Wolhander said.

Boo.com's failure was only partial, since the business plan didn't support the marketing, Wolhander said. "A company that says 'I can market without dealing with distribution' is off the wall," he said.

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